Anti-gambling advocates have criticised News Corp’s dedicated sports betting coverage website as “a new low” given community concerns about wagering, after a parliamentary inquiry called for ads and commentary on odds to be banned.
The company runs a digital hub for gambling coverage that offers detailed reports, videos, podcasts, previews and analysis on the latest markets and “top offers” from Ladbrokes, Bet365, TopSport and Betr. News Corp has a financial stake in Betr.
The CODE Bet hub is part of the digital subscription site CODE Sports, which launched in late 2021 and collates sports reporting from all News Corp mastheads and employs its own journalists.
An August 2022 article introducing the hub said: “If we could bet on pogo stick races, we would”. It assesses markets for Australia’s major codes and the English Premier League, the National Hockey League, Major League Baseball, the National Basketball League and the NFL.
Last week, it ran a betting preview for the AFL finals and linked to a page with ads to bookmakers.
The Alliance for Gambling Reform’s chief executive, Carol Bennett, said the concentration of gambling content and guides was destructive and promoted an “industry intent on generating profits by encouraging highly risky gambling”.
“News Corp seems to have hit a new low in preying on those vulnerable to gambling harm in its latest venture, the CodeSports website supported by its information hub, CODE Bet,” Bennett said.
“It beggars belief. Australia has the dubious honour of being the world’s biggest gambling losers and we have a national inquiry report highlighting the extensive harm this is causing in our most vulnerable populations.”
A CODE spokesperson said: “We are responsible publishers and will comply with the law”. News Corp was also contacted for comment.
The hub’s business model could be affected if the federal government accepts a parliamentary committee’s recommendation to ban all gambling ads within three years and immediately ban online inducements.
Angela Rintoul, who this week published a journal article confirming gambling addiction contributed to 184 suicides over eight years in Victoria, also raised concerns about the gambling content and links to bookmakers.
“The media can amplify the harm produced by gambling operators by, for instance, providing a platform to recruit customers,” Rintoul said. “The media can do a lot more to protect their audience from harm.”
Hannah Pitt, a gambling researcher at Deakin university, said the media has helped normalising gambling, particularly for younger Australians.
“Young men tell us in our research that these regular nudges to gamble make it incredibly difficult for them to stop gambling – even when they think that they are at risk,” Pitt said. “These nudges create risks by prompting them to place bets when they are trying to not to engage in gambling.”
News Corp also did not respond to questions about whether it receives trailing commissions, which sees websites paid a portion of losses a reader may incur once referred to a bookmaker . It has other websites – punters.com.au and racenet.com.au – that also collate industry news and generate money through trailing commissions. That revenue is not known, but has previously been reported as substantial.
The federal parliament’s standing committee on social policy and legal affairs’s report on online gambling recommend these payments be banned, which could affect the News Corp business model.
“The committee heard that this practice tends to be detrimental to those experiencing gambling harm,” the committee chair, Labor MP Peta Murphy, said at the time.
Lauren Levin, a harm reduction campaigner at Financial Counselling Australia, has been documenting the use of trailing commissions for more than a decade and said enmeshing sports coverage with gambling analysis would cause harm.
“It is not OK that these referral businesses suck people into the gambling machine and keep them gambling,” Levin said. “The only solution that will work is to follow the Murphy inquiry recommendations, and stop all forms of gambling advertising in all its incarnations.”
In June, the Guardian announced it would no longer accept gambling advertising across all of its global platforms.
According to the Guardian press office, the policy “seeks to address the prevalence of gambling advertising and the pervasive nature of retargeted digital advertisements that trap some people in an addictive and unhealthy cycle of gambling”.